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28 Nov 12

Jeremic’s Interest in the UN’s Image is Selective

Jelena Milic

The UN General Assembly President, Vuk Jeremic, has scheduled a debate for April 10 next year on the role and performance of international ad hoc criminal tribunals founded by the UN.

He decided on this move in line with his powers as president of the General Assembly, following the decision of The Hague Tribunal Appeal Chamber to acquit two Croatian generals for their role in the 1995 operation, Operation Storm.

Jeremic said the acquittal of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac has dealt a blow to the UN’s reputation.

But the attitude of Jeremic and the rest of the Serbian leadership to the “UN’s reputation” appears selective.

His appointment to the helm of the General Assembly has already caused tension in the UN, while some unwritten rules that worked well for years have been broken.

The question of the UN’s reputation could also be discussed from the point of view of the behaviour of the General Assembly President, and his broad interpretation of his powers, particularly those linked to his connections to his own country.  

Vojin Dimitrijevic, late expert on the UN’s work, noted that the General Assembly President’s “has to be fully unbiased, meaning that he cannot publicly advocate his country’s interests, which is obviously what is expected of Jeremic.”

Contrary to this presentation of the role of the Assembly President, Jeremic recently posted on Twitter: “I represent my country at the helm of the leading United Nations body.”

There are also questions over what appears his erroneous interpretation of the ICTY Appeals Chamber verdict in the Gotovina and Markac case, and whether this has also dealt a blow to UN’s reputation.

Jeremic interpreted the ICTY verdict thus in his official explanation of the scheduling of the debate.

“There is no doubt that a quarter of a million Serbs were expelled from their homes in just a few days, and that the court which was set up to investigate such wrongdoings, practically decided that there were no culprits nor anyone responsible for these acts,” he wrote.

“The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that there were actually no crimes, which is in obvious contradiction with reality”.

Jeremic was even more explicit on Twitter: “I will cause these international criminals the kind of damage that they never expected,” he wrote.

Unless he is thinking of Markac and Gotovina, and there’s not much legal space for Jeremic to cause them damage, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Jeremic is referring to the judges of the Tribunal Appeals Chamber.

Yet, in spite of all the well-founded criticism of the Appeal Chamber’s verdict, which has been widely discussed, nowhere was it written in the verdict that there are no culprits and crimes in the case of the Croatian Army’s Operation “Storm”.

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the daily Politika, Jeremic admitted that he had consulted with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic before scheduling the UN debate, while stressing that the decision was his.

An advisor to Nikolic, Oliver Antic, a man who boasts that he “undermined the foundations of The Hague Tribunal with scientific arguments even before this court started work”, also said in a recent interview with the daily Vecernje Novosti that it was important to launch a UN debate and announced that the President would speak at the event.

In connection with the generals’ acquittal, Antic added that, “in the final act of The Hague theatre of injustice and absurdity, evil was fully exposed and showed its true face.”

One question is whether statements such as this also constitute “a blow to the reputation of the United Nations” - or whether the season for delivering blows was opened and made legitimate the minute that Markac and Gotovina were acquitted.

Another question is how Jeremic sees the series of statements by President Nikolic in which he has denied that Bosnian Serbs committed genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

The ad-hoc Tribunal at The Hague and the permanent court of justice in The Hague, both UN courts, passed final verdicts long before the Appeals Chamber did in the Croatian generals’ case, defining the crime of Srebrenica as genocide.

Might not Nikolic’s refusal to accept this also be seen as a “a blow to the reputation of the United Nations?” How do such statements affect the reconciliation process in the region, which has suddenly become a matter of concern to Jeremic?

As Serbian Foreign Minister, Jeremic himself also asked the Permanent Court of Justice in The Hague, a court founded by the UN, to assess whether or not the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence was in line with international law.

When the assessment declared that this act did not violate international law, with the state leadership’s consent, Jeremic systemically marginalized this decision.

Instead he placed the fate of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, especially Serbia’s stance on Kosovo’s independence, in the hands of the EU and within its jurisdiction. A blow to the reputation of the UN system?

Interestingly, at the same time, and obviously in coordination with the Serbian leadership, as Jeremic scheduled a public debate on the role of international ad-hoc tribunals in achieving justice and reconciliation between peoples, the Serbian leadership cancelled its participation in and support for a meeting in Serbia at which the legacy of the Hague Tribunal was to be discussed.

Having in mind the above, the impression is that the announced debate won’t serve for Jeremic, Antic, Nikolic and others in the Serbian leadership either to defend the reputation of the UN or to consider the role and performance of international ad-hoc criminal tribunals founded by the UN in achieving justice and reconciliation between peoples.

Instead, their aim appears to be to devalue the overall work of these courts, particularly The Hague Tribunal.

This devaluation is aimed at laying in advance the foundations to negate every verdict passed before The Hague Tribunal and the Permanent Court of Justice that points to the responsibility and/or guilt of someone from Serbia, a Serb, or of the state of Serbia, especially in connection with Srebrenica.

This intention, rather than a wrong verdict based on a poorly worded indictment, is the bigger threat to the reconciliation process in the region.

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